A Little Winery Down B’ham Way

That’s B’ham as in Birmingham, Alabama.  Not what you were expecting?  Me neither!

On a road trip awhile back I had the time for a quick stop at the Vizzini Farms Winery in Calera, AL just south of Birmingham.  It’s conveniently close to I-65 – just around the bend.

First, let me say that the staff are very friendly and helpful.  In addition, the winery building has a relaxed coziness to it.  Like many wineries these days, they have a little in-house bistro with indoor and outdoor seating.  Seems like it must be pretty popular, because there were several occupied tables when I arrived in the mid-afternoon on a Monday.  Since I was on a schedule, I didn’t have the time to linger and try their dishes.  But I was able to belly up over at the wine bar where I tasted a few of their products.  They make a full line of wines there but grow only their Muscadine grapes on site.

For the quick tasting I tried their Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Great White (Muscadine).  It was an interesting group of selections.  I didn’t take detailed notes.  I was on a road trip, after all.  Still, I did get definite impressions of several.  For instance, I was fascinated by the intense viscosity and smokiness present in their Muscadine selection.  The label indicates it’s made from Scuppernong grapes.  In addition, I thought the Pinot Grigio and Viognier were very much in keeping with what I understand to be typical varietal characteristics.  I was personally a little disappointed in the Pinot Noir.  It wasn’t terrible, but it struck me as a bit weak and lacking in character.  As for the Sangiovese, I bought a bottle so that I could ponder it at my leisure.  They were willing to waive the $6 tasting fee if I bought something.  So, of course, I did!  I’ll be posting my tasting notes on that bottle soon.

Overall, it was a nice visit.  I do wish I’d had more time to relax and enjoy their hospitality.  Maybe next time I’m that far south I can drop in again.  On the other hand, there are a number of other wineries on the Alabama Wine Trail.

Flipflop Pinot Grigio 2013

I love a good catchy name for a winery or wine label – especially when it encapsulates the spirit of the winery and it’s wines.  Aimed at the budget shopper who still wants to have a little vino with a casual dinner, the Flipflop brand is just such a winery.   They’re so laid back and cool, they even have a peace sign on their label.  I would have donned my own flipflops while sipping this Pinot Grigio if it weren’t so darned cold outside.  Cool is great, but cold is … well, it’s cold.

Winemaker:  Flipflop
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage: 2013
Appellation: California
Price: $ 7.12

Notes:  This Californian was truly a pale straw color in the glass.  On the nose I caught scents of sweet tropical fruits with hints of white pepper and a green leafy note.  Acidity was fine if perhaps a little on the low side.  The body was light with a very gentle viscosity, and the alcohol was at 12.5%.  On the palate, however, the flavors I found were mostly melon and citrus with some light warm spice notes.  The finish was fairly quick with a dose of chalk dust and grassy bitterness.  By the way, I got this one on sale for $4.98.

Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio 2012

This well-known Trader Joe’s brand simply must be a part of my tastings.  After all, this is a blog focusing on inexpensive wines.  While Charles Shaw can no longer be called Two Buck Chuck, it still sells at a very low price point.

Winemaker: Charles Shaw for Trader Joe’s
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage: 2012
Appellation: California
Price: $3.29 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  In the glass, this California PG was a light yellow color.  The bouquet was extremely faint – as in almost none.  So I’m not going to articulate specific scents this time around.  If you decide to take a whiff yourself, let me know what you think.  Alcohol was at 12.5%, the body was light with a pleasant gentle viscosity to it.  Acidity was fine.  Flavors I tasted included sweet pear and melon, grass, touches of oak, and a tad of a stony mineral to boot.  I thought it was pretty decent on the front side, but the finish was long.  That could be good except that the finish brought very present bitter grass and quinine to my palate.  Even the light sweetness couldn’t mitigate the bitter finish.  As a result, I will give this selection from the Charles Shaw shelves a pass next time I’m looking for a cheap Pinot Grigio.  I like bitter flavors but appreciate them in moderation.  If you like bitter flavors in abundance, this might work for you.  Especially considering the price.


Fontana Candida Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2011

I love it when life imitates art and vice versa.  What am I rambling on about now?  Well, I’ve been reading (am still reading) a book about the modernist composer John Cage.  He was an interesting guy.  I suppose he’s best known for composing a piece of music that is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence called 4′ 33″.  Of course, that wasn’t his only composition.  He explored lots of new avenues, including electronic music when electronic music was brand new.  And he is credited as the inventor of the prepared piano.  A prepared piano is one in which the strings have been manipulated with additional items being attached to the strings to create very different sounds.  But the sounds are carefully planned and created.  Some of his pieces also rely on what he called indeterminacy – and that’s a whole other ball of wax I won’t get into here.

rigio2011Anyway, Mr. Cage did a lot of traveling during his career.  At one point he spent some time in Italy and rented a flat from a woman named Fontana.  While in residence there, he composed one of his more famous pieces and named it after his landlady, calling it Fontana Mix.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I recently found this bottle of Pinot Grigio on the shelves of my local grocer!

Winemaker:  Fontana Candida
Wine:  Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Venezie IGT, Italy
Price:  $10.99

Notes:  Bottled in the winemaker’s cellars at Monte Porzio Catone, this Pinot Grigio was a pale straw color in the glass.  On the nose I smelled citrus (lemon), grass, honey and floral notes.  The body was light and acidity was good.  At 12% alcohol, this Italian white is a little off dry, but the acidity helps give it balance.  On the palate I tasted light flavors of lemon, grass and artichoke with a touch of honey.  There is also lemon zest which lingers on the fairly long finish.  I liked it.  I’ll have to look for the 2012 on the shelves as this was on half price markdown – to move the last few bottles in stock, I assume.  Yep, that means I paid $5.49 this time around.  But I’d gladly pay full price if the next vintage is anything like this one.  Thank you, John Cage, for giving me the inspiration to try this bottle of Italian vino.

Here is a rendition of John Cage’s Fontana Mix for your entertainment and edification.  If you have the time and inclination, head over to Youtube and read the text accompanying this video which explains the piece and it’s “indeterminate” composition.

Castello di Gabbiano Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2012

Back to the Italians for a pleasant, brisk white wine.  Yes, it’s a Pinot Grigio!

Winemaker:  Castello di Gabbiano
Wine:  Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Venezie IGT, Italy
Price:  $8.99

Notes:  On the nose I found citrus, pear and spice.  It was fairly light-bodied – appropriately so.  Flavors for me were an abundance of citrus, some creamy pear, spice notes and even a little hint of apple here and there.  On the finish I found a very present bitter grass with an underlying minerality.  Alcohol was at 12.5%.  Acidity was very good.  I can totally see this wine served up with a fish dish in a light sauce or perhaps a nice chicken piccata.

Lindeman’s Bin 85 2012

I’m taking a quick break from my Moscato experiments to drink some dryer offerings.  I think it was necessary.  Either that or my blood sugar was going to be off the chart.  I had the Jacob’s Creek PG not too long ago, so I thought I’d pull another ubiquitous Australian from the store shelves for comparison’s sake.

Winemaker: Lindeman’s
Wine:  Bin 85 Pinot Grigio
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage: 2012
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Price: $6.99

Notes:  The color of this inexpensive Pinot Grigio was a very pale yellow.  On the nose, I found extremely faint scents of citrus and pear.  The body on this little number was very light.  Alcohol was at 11.5%, and acidity was quite good.  On the tongue, I found a core of grapefruit flavor that stayed from start to finish.  In addition, there were pleasant notes of pear and grass as well as hints of herbs along the way.  Accompanying the grapefruit across the palate was an underlying minerality – a counterpoint to the citrus.  Not surprisingly, the finish held a zip of grapefruit zest.  All this sounds like a glass of fermented grapefruit juice, but don’t be fooled.  Like the wine itself, the flavors are fairly subtle.  Although slightly favoring acidity over light sweetness, I found the balance in the Bin 85 to be quite good.  I thought this was a nice, brisk, refreshing wine from the folks at Lindeman’s.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Jacob’s Creek Pinot Grigio 2012

There are so many white wine options to choose from that my adventures with a Pinot Grigio in the glass have been fewer than say with a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  I don’t have anything against the varietal, though, so I picked up this Australian PG to try on a warm summer evening.

2012Winemaker:  Jacob’s Creek
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  South Eastern Australia
Price:  $5.99

Notes:   The bouquet was interesting to me because not only was there citrus and lots of floral scent, it also seemed like it had some of the pollen, too.  The color of this inexpensive Jacob’s Creek PG was a very light straw.  It was a light-bodied wine with good acidity.  The label put the alcohol at 11.3%  Flavors for me were plenty of grass and citrus, mineral notes throughout, some citrus zest, and a light sweetness across the palate.  It was pleasant enough to sip and would make a fairly decent accompaniment with a light, white fish – no heavy spices or sauces, though.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio 2012

According to the Wine Institute and store shelves where I shop for wines, the popularity of Pinot Grigio has risen in recent years.  In an online article the Wine Institute states, “The acreage in California was reported at 2,692 in the year 2000 and has more than quadrupled in less than a decade to 12,907 acres in 2010 according to the most recent California Grape Acreage Report.”  Well, the folks at Gnarly Head are doing their part.  And doing it pretty well, too, I’d say.

Vineyard:  Gnarly Head
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  California
Price:  $13.99

Notes:  In the glass this wine was a very pale yellow.  The bouquet was so light I just barely caught fleeting whiffs of pear, apple and citrus.  The flavors, on the other hand, were present on the palate – including apple, pear and nectarine with touches of lemon, some honeysuckle notes, and grass on the end.  The finish is quite long: as the grass abates, citrus lingers.  As expected of a Pinot Grigio, the wine was fairly light-bodied but had a detectable viscosity.  Acidity was fine, and alcohol is at 13%.  This offering from Gnarly Head should pair nicely with most seafood dishes.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Contadino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2012

Here is another Italian wine – this one from Veneto in the northeast – to take a look at.  I have to say that previously the Pinot Grigio’s I’ve had were made mostly by American wineries.  Although this varietal reportedly originated in the Bourgogne/Burgundy region of France, seems like the Italians do alright with this grape, too.

Also, for those of you who aren’t TJ fans or don’t have one of their stores nearby, worry not!  I have a backlog of these TJ selections in my wine rack, but I am drinking and will be posting about wines outside the TJ sphere of influence.

Winemaker:  Contadino
Wine:  Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Venezie IGT, Italy
Price:  $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  OK.  So you know already I thought it was decent.  Here’s why.  I experienced a light-bodied wine that showed very light yellow in the glass.  In keeping with it’s lightness, it didn’t have a huge bouquet.  What I did get on the nose, though, were hints of peach and lemon.  On the palate, the core flavors I found were pear, lemon and peach.  Then near the end came a quick little zing of lemongrass.  On the finish the citrus lasts and lasts.  Alcohol is 12%.  Acidity is good.  Was there a weakness?  Well, it sometimes seemed a little flaccid in the mid palate where – evidently – Pinot Grigio is supposed to do it’s best work.  But it’s $4.99 a bottle.  Serving a gently seasoned white fish tonight?  You could do worse than to serve this along with it.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Meridian Pinot Grigio ’09

Originally published 6/4/2011 at Blogarhythms.

Summer is here, so nice crisp white wines are what many of us will be looking for as we seek to cool off from the heat.  Thus, I tried the ’09 Pinot Grigio from Meridian.  The selection is just what the varietal should be – light and enjoyable.  A bit more fruity than the European style PGs, but that suits my palate just fine.

Vineyard:     Meridian Vineyards
Varietal:       Pinot Grigio
Vintage:       2009
Appellation: California
Price:          $8.99

Notes:     Meridian – a solid performer in my book – has done a good job with this Pinot Grigio.  It’s light with lime, peach and nectarine fruit flavors.  Nicely viscous for a PG but not in any way heavy.  There was also, I thought,  a sort of smoky spicy note on the finish that I couldn’t quite put my finger (or taste buds) on.  I liked it.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.